Los Angeles Times

Charter Communications abuses customer rights, wins approval for big cable merger anyway

Government approval of a merger that creates the second-largest cable and Internet service behemoth in the country is a rich prize that shouldn’t be handed out casually.

So it’s proper to ask why the Federal Communications Commission sat on its finding that Charter Communications flouted customer-service rules until Tuesday, the very day it also approved Charter’s $78-billion merger with Time Warner Cable. And why the FCC slapped Charter’s wrist with a laughable $640,000 penalty, and failed to ensure that Charter would mend its ways in the future …

Although the law allows cable operators to block connections of customer hardware only where the devices could harm the network or be used to steal services, Charter imposed limits that had nothing to do with “harm to the network or theft of service,” the agency concluded.

Its punishment, as outlined in a consent settlement released this week, deserves a prominent place in the annals of corporate wrist-slapping. The $640,000 penalty is barely a rounding error on Charter’s books — it comes to about 18 minutes’ worth of revenue for the merged Charter/Time Warner Cable, which will be collecting about $18.6 billion a year.

(Read the rest here.)